October 21, 2017

Exposing the Teacher But Not the Error?

By Joshua Gurtler

A young preacher in the south preaches a sermon on a common error taught by brethren today. Following the sermon, he is pulled aside by an older member of the church and instructed, “It’s OK to expose one’s error as long as you don’t mention his name.” When the evangelist pointed out that teachers of error were named throughout the New Testament, the member said, “True, but this was only done by apostles. And you, sir, are not an apostle.” (See Mike Willis’ multi-part series entitled “You Are Not An Apostle” beginning with the March 2, 2000 issue of Truth Magazine.)

A young preacher in the southwest delivers a lesson in which he discusses a common error taught on divorce and remarriage and exposes one prominent teacher of this doctrine. Following the lesson, on more than one occasion, the young evangelist was publicly castigated to the point of tears and severely threatened that from now on he speak to no man concerning this teacher of error. These members included deacons of that church.

Though the aforementioned events occurred to my brother and me, similar situations are being replicated by brethren all over our great land. In regards to the mentioning of a current teacher of error, a brother recently told me, “I think this brother has been beaten into the ground enough. Isn’t it time for a little relief?” Another brother told me he no longer wanted to hear me mention the doctrine and names of brethren in error. He said “listening to brothers bash other brothers in Christ is not encouraging to me.” Can you imagine Timothy telling the apostle, “Paul, I think we’ve beaten these poor Judaizers into the ground enough, isn’t it time for a little relief?” Or the disciples to Jesus, “Lord, listening to Jewish brethren bash their brothers is not encouraging to us.” Such would be unheard of in the Holy Writ, but is commonplace in the church today. In this regard, do we see approved apostolic examples for exposing error, the teacher of such, or both? If so, we then have the authority to warn others, as Paul said, “Let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (my emphasis jg) and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:16-18; 4:9). 

Exposing Error

The Scripture is replete with examples of exposing damnable heresy. This fact is abundantly clear to all good Bible students based on just one epistle. Paul’s letter to Corinth is full of examples in this regard (1 Cor. 1:12, 13; 5:1; 6:1; 8:7). Let’s bear in mind that Paul was not a member of this autonomous church to whom he was writing. Rather he was, as we are authorized, to lovingly, albeit harshly, expose and rebuke them concerning their present condition.

Exposing The Teacher And His Error

Even though good students of the Scripture are also privy to this fact, far too many church leaders and Bible teachers are either ignorant of, or have been deluded into thinking that Christians are forbidden from warning others about an errorist and his heresy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Notice the following teachers exposed by our Lord and other New Testament disciples.

  • Matt. 15 and 23 — The Pharisees for binding traditions.
  • Mark 6:18 — Herod for having his brother’s wife.
  • Acts 13:8-10 — Elymas for withstanding teachers of the truth. 
  • 1 Timothy 1:20 — Hymenaeus and Alexander for blasphemy.
  • 2 John 9 — Diotrophes for refusing the apostles doctrine.
  • 2 Timothy 2:17 — Hymenaeus and Philetus for error concerning the resurrection.
  • Revelation 2:14 — Those in Pergamum for holding the teaching of Balaam.
  • Revelation 2:20 — Jezebel for teaching people to commit acts of immorality.

Exposing The Teacher Himself

Although we have just as much scriptural justification for exposing the teacher of error alone as we do the previous two categories, Christians who do such are oftentimes opposed and exposed for this practice. This is commonly done by other Christians who will correct us for naming the errorist and then turn around and expose and name us to others in the process (Rom. 2:21-23). Such has been my experience. Let’s examine some teachers that were named without mentioning the error.

The Pharisees, Sadducees and Herod (Mark 8:15; Matt. 16:6)

In warning his followers about the teachers of error, Christ warned, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.” Matthew includes also the Sadducees. What did their leaven, influence, and doctrine consist of? We, of course, know this from Christ’s subsequent teaching and it is quite possible that the disciples knew it as well. But the fact remains that there were certain situations that Christ deemed it important to expose the teacher without exposing his error on the same occasion.

The Party of the Circumcision (Phil. 3:2) 

“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” The NASB says, “. . . beware of the false circumcision.” Vine says this expression comes from the Greek katatome meaning concision or mutilation. It is understood that Paul was making reference to the Judaizing teachers who bound circumcision and other particulars of the Old Law. We know that was their teaching and no doubt the brethren in Philippi did as well. This does not, however, change the fact that Paul exposed this group of teachers to the Philippians alone without mentioning their error.

Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:15)

The final example we wish to look at is the Apostle John where he warns the church at Pergamum concerning the Nicolaitans whose teaching was held by some of the members there. Who was this group of teachers and what did they teach? I have an idea. Many faithful brethren have varying ideas, and no doubt you do as well. Who is correct? Since there is no other mention of this group outside of history and tradition, and since John named not the error but only the group, it is impossible for us to ascertain exactly what they taught. Because John named not the doctrine of this group but the group itself, he made evident the fact that certain situations call for the exposure of the teacher without mentioning the error, with the goal of the saving of souls in mind.

While the Scriptures teach us to expose teachers of darkness and their error, let us not lose sight that it also teaches us to speak “the truth in love,” letting our “speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt that you may know how you ought to answer each one” and to “become all things to all men that I might by all means save some” (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6; 1 Cor. 9:26). Though the mockers may scoff and the heathen may rail, let us continue to expose that which is wrong in the hopes of snatching but one from the fire which will burn with an eternal fervor.

2520 Tallapoosa St., Notasulga, Alabama 36866

Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 24  p14  December 21, 2000
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